The politics of black hair remain brutal

Munchkin spent all day yesterday rolling around in wood chips. Given her hair has been up in puffs for a week, this was not good for her hair.

White friends: she spent almost four weeks in microbraids. She needed a week off to let her hair “relax” and prevent part fatigue.

I have made a conscious decision to let Munchkin have fun and not emphasize that she is making my life difficult in regards to her hair. I want her to love her amazing curls and the intricate styles available to her.

Having planned to wash and style her hair today – after gymnastics – we went to a “pumpkin patch” before her class. We played with bunnies. She rolled in hay, and she bouncy-castled herself into exhaustion.

We then went to gymnastics. Munchkin hugged everyone. She comforted two crying two-year olds and then sang You Are My Sunshine with an elegant black woman who was there with her niece and nephew.

This woman was amazing – especially given the two children weren’t hers. And she immediately fell in love with Munchkin.

Another black woman came up behind us and said something I didn’t hear, before swiping a child up and leaving. She was very careful to make sure that I didn’t hear what she said, while making sure I knew it was about Munchkin.

Incidents like this aren’t exactly rare, but they aren’t common either. The poor woman who was there with her nibblings was incensed. Once she got over her shock, she expressed outrage over how rude the other woman was. It was touching how upset she was on my behalf.

Finally, she asked me if I had heard what the rude woman had said. I hadn’t and pretended to shrug it off. This lovely woman informed me that she wouldn’t repeat it, but that I didn’t deserve that.

It didn’t take a mind reader to know what the issue was. I smiled at her (despite my anger and insecurity). I assured her that Munchkin’s hair didn’t usually look like that.

The woman assured me that she had the same type of hair as Munchkin, that she knew the struggles, and that she has seen the braids I have done in the past.

Her outrage on my behalf was generous and appreciated. What scares me is that Munchkin is getting to the point that she understands things. I fear the day she can understand the cruelty about her hair and my parenting.

To all the amazing black women in my life, I thank you for your help and support. I will continue to lean on you. And I will soon need your advice on how to make Munchkin love her hair as much as I do.

2 Replies to “The politics of black hair remain brutal”

  1. Last Thursday, I bought a book on practically this subject–a book for kids that is designed to help them love themselves, no matter their hair texture or body type. I’ll try to remember to send you a link to it when I get home tonight. I’m at work and don’t remember the title. (Christmas gift for grand-neice….)

  2. White, 58-year-old non-mother here:

    you’re a mom. You do the best you can. Be sure your daughter (and any other children) know what you’re thinking and why you do what you do, at age-appropriate levels. Listen when they have objections, think about it, and modify or not accordingly.

    I grew up the only daughter of an anxious woman whose life was ruled by rules. She did, or didn’t do, things because of SHOULDs and neighbor opinions. Alas, she adopted a baby (me) who would grow up to demand explanations for everything and insist on life being as just and fair at home as it ought to be.

    I didn’t get what I demanded, I got these empty rules and shoulds. The result strained our relationship. After I moved away from home for college, we saw each other infrequently and seldom for more than a day at a time. My parents lived close enough so that husband and I could go there, visit, have a meal, and come home…but not so close that the visits were easy. They understood this. Still, my mother railed at my distance. She never knew that I would get off the phone with fury in my eyes, as she tried to mold my life into her rules and shoulds.

    But my mother was simply a human being, trying to be the best mother she could, with a background of domestic violence, family alcoholism, and whatnot that made rules and shoulds very comforting to her. The thing is, I only put things together after she died. I only understood where she was coming from after it was too late to tell her so.

    So, explain yourself to your children. If that’s difficult, then first explain yourself to yourself. They may disagree with you. They may argue with you. But it will greatly improve your relationships.

    In this case, your daughter needs to know exactly what you’re thinking as regards her hair, so she can offer input as she grows older.

    I don’t offer this comment for you, as much as for others who might be reading. Rock on!

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